I've been an obsessed hard rock/heavy metal fan and collector since the early 1980s. If it's got a good guitar riff and attitude, I'm in.
Atlantic Records, 1983
The 1981 debut album from Maryland boogie-rockers KIX was a sweet slab of AC/DC-meets-Cheap-Trick style hard rock. But despite its high-octane tracks like "Atomic Bombs" and the perennial live-set closer "Yeah Yeah Yeah," the album didn't make much of a splash outside of their home base in the mid-Atlantic region of the U.S.
When it was time for KIX to record album number two, the band underwent its first personnel change. Guitarist Ronnie "10/10" Younkins was sidelined due to personal issues, so his slot was temporarily filled by Brad Divens, who would later turn up in Baltimore-based thrashers Wrathchild America.
The lineup change was accompanied by a tweak to KIX's sound, allegedly orchestrated by the suits at Atlantic Records. The band was paired with British producer Pete Solley, an ex-member of progressive rockers Procol Harum turned TV-jingle writer, and under his guidance the hard rockers added a slick new-wave sheen to Cool Kids, which was released in March of 1983.
"These are supposed to be Cool Kids? I'd hate to see the uncool kids."
— Beavis and Butt-Head watching the "Cool Kids" music video
Cool Kids still has a few hard rockin' cuts in the style of the first album, but a good portion of it is ill-fittingly slick, over-produced, and relies heavily on synthesizers. Atlantic Records was clearly hoping to grab KIX some radio and MTV play via cover tunes and pop-leaning contributions from outside songwriters. Don't get me wrong, it's a well played, energetic album that sounds like a million bucks, but it simply doesn't sound much like KIX.
(Atlantic Records were well known for mishandling the bands on their rock/metal roster during this period—power metallers Raven and Savatage were also pushed into similarly unsuccessful pop-metal makeovers during their tenures with the label.)
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The swirling, keyboard-laden opening track, "Burning Love," was originally performed by the obscure band Spider and it's the first of three (!) cover songs on the album. I'm not familiar with the original, but KIX's version is catchy as hell, with front man Steve Whiteman giving it his all on the vocal front. The title track is another cover (originally by Franne Golde, whoever she is) and it sounds like a slightly harder rockin' version of The Cars. The music video for "Cool Kids," which showed the band playing on a New York street corner to a bunch of dancing teens, is cringe-worthy '80s cheese that was rightfully savaged by Beavis and Butt-head a decade later.
Things improve slightly with "Love Pollution," the first song on the album that was actually written by members of the band, but then there's yet another friggin' cover -- "Body Talk" by '70s relic Nick Gilder (of "Hot Child in the City" fame), which was accompanied by another cringey video of the band rockin' out in front of a women's aerobics class.
By this point, we're almost halfway through the album and so far, very little of KIX's personality has come through. "Loco-Emotion" has a weird synth-pop backbone and a saxophone solo (?) but at least the guitars get to rip during the choruses.
On the album's second half (which would've been "Side 2" back in the days of LPs and cassettes), Atlantic wisely decided to step back and let KIX be themselves. The slammin' "Mighty Mouth" is the best song on the album thus far, opening with a roaring heavy-metal scream from Whiteman and the guitars of Divens and Brian Forsythe charging out of the gate like angry bulls. "Nice On Ice" is heavy on attitude and Cheap Trick swagger, and the ridiculous "Get Your Monkeys Out" is a fun, funky rocker that probably would've been a better choice for a single than either "Body Talk" or "Cool Kids."
The shoulda-been-a-hit "For Shame" is a lovely acoustic ballad (mind you, this was several years before such things were standard for every pop metal band) and the album comes to a close with a satisfactory bang on "Restless Blood," a balls-to-the-wall rocker that provides a sneak preview of the melodic-but-raunchy hair-metal direction that the band would adopt starting with 1985's Midnite Dynamite.
The Legacy of "Cool Kids"
Despite its release at the start of the big Eighties Metal boom, Cool Kids went almost un-noticed. The album's poorly-chosen singles failed to gain any traction at radio or MTV, who were too busy playing Def Leppard's "Photograph" and Quiet Riot's "Cum On Feel The Noize" every five minutes.
Ronnie Younkins returned to the KIX fold in time for 1985's excellent, but under-performing, Midnite Dynamite. Stardom would elude them for a few years longer, till KIX finally scored a legitimate hit in 1988 with Blow My Fuse, featuring their best known song, "Don't Close Your Eyes."
KIX reunited in the mid 2000's and are still rockin' to this day. Cool Kids songs still make it into their set lists nowadays like "For Shame," which appeared on their 2012 comeback concert package, Live in Baltimore, and "Love Pollution," on 2016's Can't Stop The Show: The Return of KIX live album.
Cool Kids is currently out of print in the U.S., but curiosity seekers and hair-metal completists can get it via import on the Dutch "Music On CD" reissue label. Happy hunting.
© 2020 Keith Abt